In my deeply ambivalent, often antagonistic, relationship with Madras/Chennai, shopping is something that usually has a positive cast.
And since I moved here, Giri Stores near the Kapaleeswarar Temple is one of the few places I really like to go to. It's full of surprises--things I never knew existed; things I never knew I was interested in; things I never knew I wanted.
It's also been a research mainstay. Since I moved here, I have done a little bit of work on Indian political ideas and in the absence of any decent research libraries, buy a lot of books. Mainstream bookstores don't carry the range of books on the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, or on Indian philosophy, that you can find at Giri Stores or at the Motilal Banarasidas store nearby in Luz. There are also two stores off Royapettah High Road, but Giri Stores is so much fun!
You walk into the floor with all the pooja samagri, everything smells wonderful. And yes, you do want to buy all the dhoop and agarbatti immediately! One flight up into the mezzanine, you find the many kinds of metal things that live in pooja rooms--kuttu vilakkus of different sizes, kamakshi vilakkus, yantrams, kalashams, etc. The next flight up, they stock music and DVDs and not just religious stuff. I saw good old Dev Anand gazing out of the 'Asli Naqli' DVD package! Finally, they have a floor of books. I spent a lot of time and money there this morning, all in the name of research! I was able to find academic books as well as the tiny pocket-book size edition of something my mother asked for.
The basement may be the most blah part of the store--it's where they stock "gift items." From pocket-size pictures of various deities to those now-ubiquitous Chinese-made idols, it may be both the most contemporary and the most generally tasteless floor.
All in all, a place at which you can really spend a lot of time browsing with no agenda. And did I mention how good it smells? (Yes, I did also buy lots of incense as well.)
Check it out!